Steak Frites at Les Halles: The Cookbook vs. The Restaurant

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Diana, Joe, me and Jamie at Les Halles

Regular readers of the Real Potato know that I’m a fan of chef/author/restauranteur/travel host Anthony Bourdain. I like his philosophy, I like his show, I like his writing. But until this month, I had yet to answer the most important question anyone can ask about a chef: How’s his food?

The short answer is: very, very good.

Joe and I had a lot of fun finding out for ourselves this January. Our method was to buy the Les Halles Cookbook and make a recipe, then head to New York to sample the real thing at Les Halles on Park Avenue South. All in the name of science, of course. The sacrifices I make for the sake of my readers! Hee.

We chose, for our romantic anniversary dinner, Filet of Beef, Sauce Porto with Roasted Shallots. This is one of the simpler recipes in the book– it’s steak frites with a dark, delicious sauce made with port wine and roasted shallots. I won’t reproduce the recipe here, because I’d be very sad if Bourdain sued me, but the gist of it is: You roast several whole shallots in the oven until they’re nice and molten and soft (just like roasted garlic). You sear your steaks, then finish them in the oven. Then you make a sauce with veal stock (sorry, Bourdain, we used beef stock), demi-glace, another shallot, butter and port, serve it over the steak, and accompany it with the shallots.

The overall effect was delicious– the shallots mellowed with cooking and made the flavors richer and deeper. We had some thick, delicious steaks, and the cooking times in the recipe gave us perfectly medium-rare meat.

We also used Bourdain’s method for making fries, blanching them first and using peanut oil as the cooking medium. They were delicious enough that we decided to use peanut oil from now on– they even smelled wonderful while cooking.

Later in the month, my employer treated the entire company to a weekend in New York City, to celebrate making our goal for 2007. (Don’t you wish you had my job?) Joe and I immediately made reservations at Les Halles, and friends Diana and Jamie came along to check it out. Bourdain hasn’t actually worked there for several years– he’s off making television– but I believe he’s a partner, and his recipes certainly inform the menu.

My steak at Les Halles was an onglet, or hanger steak, a cut for which Bourdain professes his love throughout the cookbook. We used a filet mignon, not the most flavorful cut, but it worked out well. It was a smaller cut, but done perfectly medium rare and deeply flavorful. The sauce was served in a ramekin next to the steak so that I could spoon it on myself, a nice touch. The sauce was a bit thicker and darker as well. It was served with a handful of spring mix and a generous (but not crazy) pile of the most perfect fries I have ever tasted. Really. I grew up idolizing the Potato Patch fries at Kennywood; I’ve eaten my way to a happy grease coma at the dirty O and Pommes Frites, but these had the perfect crunchy surface, golden color and clean, potato-y aroma. Wow. Bourdain, you are the man.

Joe had the outrageously decadent Burger Rossini, a thick burger on a brioche bun with freaking foie gras and truffles on it. It was delicious, and formerly vegetarian Diana got to try her first bite of foie gras (she’s a convert). This dish, however, was the black mark on the otherwise exemplary service: when Joe ordered it off the menu, the server said they had a special Kobe beef version of the burger today. It was a little mumbled and confusing, but Joe said he wanted the burger, and nobody ever mentioned that the damn thing was more than twice the menu price! We were shocked when the bill came. Not cool.

Jamie’s pork tenderloin was slightly dry, but bathed in an incredible sauce. And Diana’s steak au poivre was juicy and spicy– perfect for someone who prefers food that fights back. We washed it all down with a red wine my wine-loving coworker Angèle recommended, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

The photographic highlight of the meal, of course, was the Crèpes Suzette. Yeah, that’s right, we ordered the showy dessert. The (totally charming, Gnarls Barkley-singing) manager came out to do the honors:

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The Grand Marnier-fueled climax:
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And the end result:
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Yum.

So, what did we learn?

-Bourdain is an excellent writer of recipes: he’s clear about what to expect and which corners you may or may not cut. You can rely on his recipes to guide you in making a damn fine home version of his restaurant dishes. (Also, it’s the first cookbook that’s ever made me laugh out loud.)

-Real veal stock does make a difference, a point Bourdain stresses again and again in the book.

-Definitely use peanut oil when making fries, and make sure to blanch.

-Corrupting vegetarians is fun, but expensive. (Corollary: don’t order the special without checking the price!)

No big shockers there, but we certainly had a good time finding out. I’ll certainly pay Les Halles another visit the next time I’m in New York with a Christmas bonus!

[where: 411 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10016]

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5 Responses to “Steak Frites at Les Halles: The Cookbook vs. The Restaurant”

  1. sillydoggies Says:

    That sounds wonderful!

  2. thepensivepoet Says:

    To be fair, if you guys knew ANYTHING about food you should’ve expected the cost of a kobe beef burger to well exceed the cost of regular american beef…

  3. mark Says:

    I’m working my way through the Les Halles cookbook and I find your post very encouraging🙂

    I’ve been to Les Halles twice but unfortunately my memory won’t stretch back to be able to do the comparison that you did. Excellent idea!

  4. Kathleen Pagan Says:

    Hi! I am from Miami…I found your lovely site because I just found out that I will be seeing AB host a cook off between Jacques Pepin and Eric Ripert and before that I will be dining at Les Halles here in MIA (early Christmas present from my brother!!)…I was hoping to find a post or two about their steak frites and found this fantastic post! Love to hear about food from foodies!! The same brother gave me AB’s Les Halles Cookbook for my birthday and even though I haven’t tried out a recipe yet I did have the experience of laughing out loud reading a cookbook!!
    Keep on dining and blogging!!!
    KMP


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